Around the Plant

We’ve been busy on a number of projects of late—think EE’s Brown Falcon Nursery, wedding at the family acres among others. Also the weather has ranged from downright dreadful to terrifying. So, its not surprising that we haven’t been for a run down to the Western Treatment Plant since early November last year. Prior to that we’d managed three trips that had ended in washouts, and photos of terns dancing in the rain.

Yesterday, after lunch, EE, looked out the window, and said, “The sun’s shining, why not grab a picnic dinner and head to to the WTP for the evening.”

Which suited me, as I have been looking for an excuse to go visit the visiting White-winged Terns. (they used to be called White-winged Black Terns, but let’s not follow that winding track)

We went through the Paradise Road gate, and there in the tree to welcome us was “Elmer-be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting rabbit-Fudd”, the Brown Falcon.  He even gave us his signature welcoming gesture, the One-legged Stance.

A little further along and we found a couple of Black Kites.  They obviously had little to do, or simply no where to go and it looked for awhile that they were prepared to stare down our presence. We waited.  Hoping of course, that they would throw off the fence in our direction. But in the end, they slipped off the fence and away. Tail feathers sharp, but little other detail.

The roadway down to Lake Borrie had large numbers of White-fronted Chats and Golden-headed Cisticolas along the fences and the roadside greenery. Plenty of young and as EE remarked, “That is probably why we’ve not seen to many of them lately as they’ve been busy.”

We arrived at the area where the White-winged Terns normally hunt, but were disappointed that the ponds were quiet. Really quiet. Not even the usual Musk Duck flotillas or even Swamphens.  We’d have to look elsewhere.

We had anticipated sitting by the beach at one of the overflow outlets, but as the tide was on the way in, there would be little to see among the waders, and we took the hint, and headed down to the T Section area.

On the way, EE remarked that we could try the Austin Road area and see if the Brolga were in residence, but when we got there, again it was very quiet. And we moved on.
Just as we neared the T Section gate, “There,” she cried. And there indeed, as a pair of Brolga flew across the road in front of us. But the time I’d stopped IamGrey, and EE was out of the car, they were well gone. Never-the-less we backtracked and spotted them further inside the plant, so we drove down as close as was possible. Again we hoped they might fly, but rather they strolled over a hillock and were gone.

Back to the T Section.

As soon as we got inside the gate, the world changed and about 15 Glossy Ibis descended almost in front of us.  And I learned a valuable lesson about Autofocus on the D500.

I’d changed the Auto Limiter on the 500mm from limiting focus range to ‘full range’ for the previous Chat shots, and hadn’t changed it back. Meant the lens had a much longer focus travel, and combined with the TC 1.4 Converter I’d just been using for the Brolga, the lens refused to focus.  Add to that I’d dropped the ISO for tripod shots of the Brolga and hadn’t changed that back, I was working with impossible slow shutter speeds for inflight.
There go the Ibis. Sadly there goes the focus. 🙂

Quick to recover I am, so off comes the TC, ISO back to 400, shutter speed to 1/3200 and where are the ibis? They had landed reasonably close by, and it might have been possible to get them feeding, when they put a resting Swamp Harrier into the air, and they too took off in fright. Did a big circle around us, and the light, shutterspeed and focus are now working for me.  See who said bird photography was hard.

Our next challenge was flocks of hunting Whiskered Terns. Another misnamed, if ever there was one, bird. Used to be Marsh Tern, and I knew what they were. Why change to “Whiskered” as its no help to a beginner in id-ing the bird.  You’d expect to find a bird with some whiskery protuberances, right? Wrong!
They only show a white fine line on their face during a short period of breeding. Another winding track.:-)

Beaut light, beaut action, rolled out the deckchairs, pulled out the picnic basket, and a warm Earl of Grey, and we enjoyed a sumptuous repast in the the lovely evening sunshine and delighted at the unfolding entertainment of the Terns at work.

Nearly dropped me sandwich!
It was a White-winged Tern! They have a much faster wingbeat, not unlike a Black-shouldered Kite, so it was easy to pick among the languid hunting flaps of the Whiskered.  Managed a few frames, but the other terns didn’t take kindly to its presence and outnumbered it chose to move on.

And as I finished the last of the Earl’s good drop, across the bund, and over the water in front of us, a hunting Swamp Harrier came toward us. My fav side-light, rich evening glow, and the bird came past us, not deviating.  A fine way to end the evening.


Saturday Evening Post #66: Down the Rabbit Hole

“When did you go down the Rabbit Hole,” he asked.

I was chatting with a mentor, and the question of how we got into photography came up.

Long term reader(s), (Thank you), will recall I’ve discussed my early photographic exploits.  So I’ll not bore you further with daring exploits of a 13 and 14 year old boy armed with a Magic Carpet, “Super Balda 120 Folding Camera”.

But it got me to thinking about how Alice, in her adventures met all sorts of different situations. Together with some fascinating characters, and some great, thanks to Lewis Carrol’s unfettered imagination, and his superb way with words, that bring tears of joy and delight, along with a helping of drama, and the delicate balance of—will things turn out alright.

And no two rabbit holes are the same. For some it’s a technical exercise, for others a range of creative pursuits. For others the need to document the good, or the bad about the world around. Causes, events, happenings, occasions, quiet moments, even introspection are all part and parcel of the photo pursuit. These days an added facet is the unending webbased discussions that seem to fill each moment of the day with an ever increasing complexity. This camera, that lens, have you tried the best software, my vision, my pov, my set of rules or even my blindness to other’s view of their world.  All the while it seems it stops us from making those great images.

(I was nearly going to write, and where for all these waffling experts are their stunning photos to prove their position,. But not wishing to offend anyone, I won’t 🙂 )

I think a better question, is ‘Now that I’m down the Rabbit Hole what direction do I take?”  To mess with the Cheshire Cat? To follow the time poor Bunny, or to trade swords with the Queen of Hearts?  Or to try to escape from the White Rabbit’s house?

There is, as William Neale, points out, a delicate balance between working more with the same subject for better angles, better light, more mood, or simply moving on for another subject.
These days, I’m committed to Bird Photography, so add the additional “Wonderland’ moment of how the subject interacts in its world.

Sometimes I stay for hours, hoping for a new look at the old subject, sometimes coming back many days in a row, looking for that telling moment. Sometimes I find such exciting subjects and I just need to slow down and have the patience and the concentration  to wait for the right moment. The one that captures the right nuance of the subject.

Raucous, loud and bullying are all words that tell of “Sulphur-crested Cockatoos.” Amazing aeronauts, masters of the air and skilled artisans of the wind, also are part of their character.
We were in a paddock waiting for for the appearance of some small bush birds.  All around the Cockys were putting on Royal Command Performances.
It might have been a distraction.  But once down the Rabbit Hole, all sorts of worlds open up if you have the Key, the Potion, and the Cake. 🙂


Little Visits: Charming Sittellas

Mentioned a trip a few weeks ago to the You Yangs.
One of the highlights of the morning was an encounter with a family group of Varied Sittella.

These charming little birds are not always so easy to find, and because of their hyper-active approach to feeding, are always on the move.  It might be I guess that they have to search through all the bits of loose bark on a branch looking for a tid-bit, and with so many birds all at work at the same time, its really the quickest down the branches.  Sittellas have an unique approach to feeding, starting at the top of the tree and then working their way down.  Treecreepers on the other hand, usually start lower down and work upwards.

What was interesting is that this family had several young, recently fledged with the party.  The young ones preferred to sit together and preen, while the adults did all the work.
They moved so quickly that we lost them for a short time, and while we went right, they apparently had gone left.
Big Rock is just what it says, a very big rock.  There is a track around the base, and its about 20 minute stroll.   The birds were working primarily in Black wattle that grows up along the base of rock. When the rains come, good water flows from the rock, but at other times, the area is particularly dry  so much of the wattle never grows to maturity.  Which suits the insects that the Sittellas feed. So it works all round.


Typical pose, going down the branches
Every nook and cranny gets a good going over
No doubt a favourite game. Looping a branch
Some of the young ones that were happy to sit together and preen
Its always impressive to see the underwing colours on these birds

Hard to see the rich colours on the wings while they are folded, but impressive in flight

Saturday Evening Post #65 : The Gift of our Very Personal Now.

Simple one tonight.
Mostly because I couldn’t have said it better.

Here is a quote from “The Online Photographer”, A Postcard from Peter

“The gift of seeing, feeling, and the joy of response!

“We live in a world full of immense challenges—often personal and maybe more often, generalized challenges to the spirit presented by the major forces at play all around us—politics, economics, ideology, attitudes, and environmental realities. In the midst of all of this—among the daily blessings and joys that offer so much amazing life in the present moment—is the opportunity to go out, and use one’s eyes, heart, movement, and presence to not only see, but to feel, and respond by registering with a camera, our very personal now. For many of us, it is not only photography, but more importantly, this opportunity to exist and live in the present among all that life can offer daily, that is an essential nourishment for the soul. And, it all starts by simply being out, present, and alive, by seeing and feeling. This opportunity is such a blessing for us all.”

—Peter Turnley

Original contents copyright 2020 by Peter Turnley. All Rights Reserved.

Mike at Online Photographer also features a photo by Peter. But courtesy means I won’t republish it here, without permission.

Peter Turnley is a photojournalist and has had many magazine covers over his career.

I have often pondered in quieter moments, that if I’d have not taken a turn to commercial photography, that PJ would have been my pursuit.
So to that end, much of my current bird photography is not about exotic, or more species, but simply to record the goings on of the lives on birds that I come in contact with.

Its my own gift of the Very Personal Now.



Moments: Hiring a “Tradie”

EE spent much of November and December working with a Black-shouldered Kite pair that were raising two new, fine looking, young.

By the end of the year, the pair had given the young ones their marching orders and apart from a week or so of occasional visits the young now seem to have taken the hint and moved away.  Interesting to see, mostly the male, fly round them and keep them away from the resting female. Try as they might to slip past him, his diligence and vigilance, and fly skills meant it was all a bit in vain.

So, we thought. That will mean the adults will move on soon, as this area hasn’t traditionally had a ‘resident’ (not that Black-shouldered Kites are resident), pair.

So we thought.

On the way through the forest in the morning, and we were surprised to hear the pair contact calls.  She with a harsh “SCRaaaCH”, and he with a plaintive ‘Pee, pee”.

And there they were both sitting together on the edge of a clearing.   Ok. Time to get some pictures before they leave.

So we thought.

Surprisingly, after just a short break—less than a month—  they are back in business with a new nest site.
So while she sat and occasionally gave encouragements, he took on the role of a ‘tradie’. Lifting and bumping branches, twigs and long sticks. Then rearranging them into the chosen treetop.

While all this anecdotal, and is for this pair only, its been interesting to watch the progress.

Each stick is very carefully selected, and cut, or broken from a surrounding tree. He spends many minutes in the selected tree, and then either nips off the short small twigs or flys at them and pulls them off, or failing that flys at them full tilt and carries off the main branch by force.  Doesn’t always work, as occasionally a stick just doesn’t want to break away. 🙂

Then back to nest, much ‘pee, pee’ing as he approaches, and parachutes down into the treetop.  Then there is quite a bit of activity as he carefully threads it into the right place and satisfied, he usually spends a few minutes (say about 10!), sitting in the nest, and working out perhaps, what is needed next.

Then its off to “Bunnings” for the next load of building supplies.

In the hour or so he made about 6 visits, and she remained on her branch a long way back from the activity, and occasionally added her thoughts to the procedure.

What is interesting of course is that they have settled in for a second nesting. Perhaps the food in the area is likely to improve.

Time will tell as to their success.
In the meantime, here’s the Tradie.

She was quite happy to preen and watch proceedings from afar.

Stepping out of the nest to continue the work.

Off to Bunnings for another visit. Perhaps he likes the sausage sizzle on Tuesdays.

The early morning smokey light has given him a richer colour, and at first I thought it must have been one of the young birds in their ginger dress.




Little Visits: You Yangs on Sunday

One of the first times EE and I have been out just looking about.
We had been hoping to find some Eastern Yellow Robins, and or some evidences of the Scarlet Robins at the You Yangs, and EE also wanted to visit her water feature near the Big Rock carpark.

In the end, the big surprise was a family of Sittella,  and their young recently fledged clan. I’m going to do a separate blog on that encounter.

In the meantime in spite of all the disaster that is around, and the challenges of the rest of summer ahead of us, it was good to see the birds had new life on the way.

Silvereye at the Water Feature
Young Australian Magpie engaged in some serious preening, while reminding the parents of its presence.
One of several juvenile Grey Shrike Thrush working in the area
A Yellow-faced Honeyeater waits, nervously and politely for its turn at the water.
Varied Sittella, circling the branch
Two young Varied Sittella preening and resting while the family feed nearby
A young Scarlet Robin, one of the first we’ve seen in many months. Presumably its a male beginning to moult in.
Spotty the Pardalote. This is the male that I showed feeding his young on my Flickr steam.
Well not every shot is a winner, but I rather liked the colour set of the Sittella wings

Saturday Evening Post #64: A Special Conjunction

Art is the demonstration that the Ordinary is Extra-ordinary—A. Ozenfant

Been away for the past week(end) up at the family acres.  EE’s sister’s Wedding to be precise. Right on the edge of the fire zone in the north of the state.  How close, well, the reception was held in the local Fire Refuge Shelter-the hall was booked before the current crisis. At other times, it’s the local football club building. Go Tigers!

Had the chance to relive some of my early history, as I was called on to ‘do the wedding photos’.  Talk about dragging an old warhorse out for another canter round the circuit.

So armed with the trusty D810, and  brace of SB-600 flashunits, I did, indeed, set off. Add a good short zoom, 24-70 would have been the choice, and I’ve got inside groups and closeup intimate portraits covered.

And as it all came flooding back, like learning to ride a bike, I recalled why I really like to use strobe flash.  A touch here, a shadow fill there, a rosco gel on that one, change up the white-balance, bounce it, fill it, wind down the power for a rich backdrop, and so on, and on.
I also recalled why we went down the Nikon path back when we went digital full time:—Their superior (at the time) flash control. Joy to use and control the power and balance, without lots of cables, and light control gizmos.

Reminded me of a quote from Tom Ang, is his photography book.  “The joy and delight photographers take in their experience of light. It may, then, be a sharing of the experience of life itself. It is our good fortune as photographers to have a particular awareness of light’s harmony with life. For the special conjunction of a certain quality of light with the stream of life creates a ‘significance of meaning‘ that we turn into a photograph. Light always leads the way.
The wise photographer learns to be taken up by light—not to contemplate it too deeply.”

Working on the Magnificent Magpie project, I was suddenly aware that while I was walking around Maggie checking out the angle, the light the backdrop, the point of view, Maggie was evaluating me too. What a great two way communication.

I ended up sitting on the grass while Maggie hunted across a large lawn lit by streams of light against dark shadows.

And then Maggie stepped out of the shade, into the light, and the conjunction happened.

Just like working with strobes and getting harmony and balance through the electronic flash, Maggie worked with the available moment, and all I had to do was play my part.
Press the shutter button.

Tom Ang again, “The Tao of effective lighting is to let the subject and the light work it out for themselves. Letting be: that is how to be effective without working.”

Saturday Evening Post #63 : Big Annoucement—The Magnificent Magpie project 2020

I’ve spent part of the holiday time reading, or studying, a book called “Australian Magpie”, by Gisela Kapplan (see here)

One of the things that struck me was from her detailed observations, how often I’ve seen the same or similar behaviour, yet how little of it I have actually photographed.  And I put it down to, “Oh, they are just Magpies”, while I was looking for that ‘elusive’ new species I needed to locate. 🙂
I think I wrote about that last week.

I’ve just finished a project with another group and wondered what I might contribute in 2020.
Which is why I’ve decided to spend the year collecting as many Magpie Pictures as I can.

So welcome to the announcement of the beginning of “The Magnificent Magpie project 2020”.  Magnificent being the Magpie not the project, just so we’re all clear on that.

Rather than fill pages and pages of WordPress blog, I’m going to make it mostly a visual journey.
To do that, the photos will appear on a SMUGMUG folio.

Yes, I know all the flickr folk shudder at Smugmug, but they do make it very easy to create photo galleries and link the work in various threads.
And yes, I did spend a buck or two for the page, (50% off for Flickr pro members—no, its not a paid sales incentive remark, just explaining).

And I figured if I put some funds up front, I’d be more likely to consider it of value and the project might have continuity for the year.

Here is a link.

My plan is to take photos of habitat, behaviour, activities, interaction, and other character qualities making each a gallery that is added to on a somewhat ad hoc basis as I come across Magpies in their day to day lives.
One good thing, is they are hardly rare, so I’m probably not going to get stuck for subjects.

Those that follow will see the galleries expand as move along with the project.

There are places to comment, and there are at the moment several other galleries in place with other images, as I began to figure out how it all worked. Hope you enjoy the way SmugMug shows of the images.  There is a full page quad arrow for a bigger size.

I might also expand it for Local Birds, in my neighbourhood, and then birds from various locations that we visit. Like “the office”

Feeling good about a project that is not only interesting, but achievable.

Hope to see you over at SmugMug some time.  I’ll put the occasional update page here just to keep it linked.
Yes, will continue, this is just a parallel work.

I can hear magpies calling as I write. 🙂